Film

Black Hollywood: Blaxploitation and Advancing an Independent Black Cinema

Spike Lee on set

In recent history, the myriad commercial and social reactions to so-called Blaxploitation films made feasible the rise of a robust, intelligent, and independent black cinema in the US.

In 1919, Oscar Micheaux directed Within Our Gates, a powerful response to D.W. Griffith's Klan-exalting Birth of a Nation. Micheaux's film and subsequent career were dedicated to the restorative representation of the "New Negro" through film, and his life was a testament to the virtues of self-determination and enterprise. He did not wait for the market to come to him. Micheaux was an artist who made it so, and he used his hard-won business opportunities to advance an important social mission.

Ninety years later, viewers are able to turn to VH1 and follow the ongoing adventures of Tiffany "New York" Pollard. "New York" has starred on numerous reality shows for VH1, most notably on Flavor of Love, which disturbingly features a meat market of women who are given new names and branded and demeaned in various ways before being sent home.

The highest prize of this minstrel show is the affection of Flavor Flav. "New York", however, has parlayed her success on the show into various other programs on the network, all of which revolve around supposedly risqué sexual competition and conquest, but in fact resemble the exchange of human chattel.

That we have descended from the "New Negro" to "New York" over the better part of a century is indeed a sign of the overall coarsening of the culture. It is important to note that neither of the examples entirely defines its era, and that one could point to a range of alternatives that upset the comparison.

However, as it concerns the visibility and economic power of the black performer, "New York" has become, for many, an ideal. That VH1 continues to give Pollard opportunities (more on her latest show a bit later) is a sign that there is power in her brand, as there once was for Micheaux's performers.

DVD: Black Hollywood: Blaxploitation and Advancing An Independent Black Cinema

Film: Black Hollywood: Blaxploitation and Advancing An Independent Black Cinema

Director: Howard Johnson

Cast: Oscar Williams, Jim Brown, Rosalind Cash

Year: 1984

Rated: not rated

US DVD release date: 2009-05-19

Distributor: Screen Edge / MVD

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/b/blackexploitation-cover.jpgAll artists and actors want an audience for their work, but Howard Johnson's Black Hollywood: Blaxploitation and Advancing an Independent Black Cinema questions whether the available jobs are worth having at all. What is the value of being "seen" if one has to sacrifice his/her spirit?

Shot in 1984, the documentary preserves a too-brief moment in time, when the myriad commercial and social reactions to so-called Blaxploitation films made feasible the rise of a robust, intelligent, and independent black cinema in the United States. As actor Jim Brown says in an interview, Blaxploitation films were successful because they catered to the hunger of black actors and audiences. The cultural impact of such works might not have been redeeming, as they featured already well-worn stereotypes about pimps, prostitutes and gangsters.

The films' popularity, however, proved that there was plenty of "business" to go around, and that it was possible to employ and entertain often-neglected performers and consumers. If such films provided at least a decisive foot in the door, then an entire body of minority-friendly film should have naturally followed.

Black Hollywood reveals that, unfortunately, the popularity of black exploitation films did not translate into lasting economic power for black artists. In a series of compelling interviews, occasionally highlighted with footage from related films, the interviewees take stock of their contributions to, and place within, the American film industry.

Tiffany Pollard in her Marilyn Monroe getup.

Filmmaker Oscar Williams discusses how economic protectionism is primarily to blame for keeping black artists (as well as women and young white artists) out of the system. His straightforward allegation that Hollywood prizes its "hold on the established order" carries not a hint of paranoia or sensationalism. By framing his argument as that of an insider/ outsider -- an industry underdog -- Williams makes several convincing points about the self-defeating risk aversion of the film business.

One of his most entertainingly stated (though sadly accurate) remarks in the documentary is that sociological assumptions influence the reception of films with a mostly black cast. He says no one calls Little Caesar an inherently violent film, but with a black cast it would be labeled as such, and that "if you had a black cast in The Deer Hunter, it would have been called Black Exploitation".

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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